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News & Press: Conference

Exploring religion in Sin City

Thursday, February 28, 2019  
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By Courtney Henderson-Adams // RNA intern
Las Vegas has been known as "Sin City" for decades. But beyond the dazzle of lights and drone of slot machines is a rich and colorful religious tapestry that might surprise you. Before you head to the 2019 RNA Annual Conference at the Westgate in Las Vegas Sept. 19-21, we've compiled a few faith tidbits to explore when you're there.
  1. In 1855, a group of 30 Mormons built the first permanent settlement in Las Vegas. Their stay was short-lived, however, as the fort they built was abandoned just two years later following disappointing crop yields and disagreements among leaders.

  2. In 1946, gambling empire owner Meyer Lansky, who was called the Jewish Mafia's "Secretary of the Treasury," lent cash to his friend and fellow mob giant Bugsy Siegel to help finish stalled construction on Vegas' Flamingo Hotel and Casino. After Siegel was shot to death in a suspected gang hit in 1947 over sagging Flamingo revenue and possible bet skimming, Lansky took over the property, where it remained a lucrative investment for him for decades.

  3. In the mid-1960s, the Vegas staff of billionaire film producer Howard Hughes came to be known as the "Mormon Mafia." It is said that Hughes thought Mormon men were more trustworthy business associates because of their faith’s prohibition on alcohol, smoking and gambling.

  4. Before moving to Minneapolis in 1986, Vegas was the original headquarters of the Eckankar faith founded by American writer Paul Twitchell. Paramahamsa Yogananda's Self-Realization Fellowship, Surat Shabda Yoga and Scientology were among the many religions Twitchell explored before, in 1964, he began writing his own teachings on what is now known as Eckankar. The 50,000 members of the faith believe that "Each person is Soul, a particle of God sent into the lower worlds (including earth) to gain spiritual experience."

  5. Starting out as in 2002, Strip Church visits and ministers to adult entertainment workers on the Las Vegas Strip. The organization has since branched out nationally, training leaders to carry out this ministry in their home cities.

  6. Vegas is currently home to the Unification Church's 135,000-square-foot "Peace Palace" training and worship facility. In 2008, the church's founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, moved from Hawaii to Vegas because he hoped the church “would change the reputation of Las Vegas from ‘Sin City’ to a city of educational enlightenment.” 

There's much more to explore in Vegas during RNA's 70th Annual Conference. Make plans to join us as we examine Vegas' religious landscape; new religious movements; religion and politics; sex abuse scandals and #MeToo developments, Godbeat tools, trends/polls and other can't-miss topics. Bookmark this page for a soon-to-be-released schedule, registration, and hotel reservations:


Tiffany McCallen contributed to this report.

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2020 RNA Annual Conference (Virtual)

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